San Diego Planning Commission approves Windansea home project and criticizes La Jolla group
The La Jolla Community Planning Association’s appeal of the city’s permit approval for a development on Kolmar Street brings stinging comments at a commission meeting.
Contention over a development proposed for the Windansea area of La Jolla continued as it was discussed at the San Diego Planning Commission’s meeting July 30, with commissioners criticizing the La Jolla Community Planning Association for its handling of the project’s review. One commissioner even said, “It’s very hard for me to take you seriously when this is how you approach things.”
The project, presented by architect Tim Golba, calls for a coastal development permit to demolish a house that sits across two lots and build a pair of two-story houses at 304 and 306 Kolmar St. One home would be 2,229 square feet and the other 2,244 square feet. The applicant would live in one of the homes and sell the other.
The La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee reviewed the project twice in May before ultimately voting against it. At the time, residents voiced concerns about a carport, privacy being invaded and community character being disrupted.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association followed suit and voted against the project June 4. It also passed a motion to formally ask the city of San Diego to stop approving projects with carports that would exceed allowable floor area ratio if they were counted as garages. Carports are not counted in FAR, but garages are, and many expressed concern that the proposed carport would be converted to a garage after construction.
However, in the days between the DPR hearings and the LJCPA review, the city released a notice of decision on the project and issued a coastal development permit, effectively approving the project.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association voted against a residential project proposed for Kolmar Street in Windansea, but the discussion during the board’s online meeting June 4 raised other issues that the development seemed to represent, such as carports and whether the city of San Diego gives enough consideration to community planning group input.
LJCPA appealed the city’s decision to the San Diego Planning Commission.
Among a list of concerns with the project, LJCPA trustee Mike Costello said it is “inconsistent with the La Jolla Community Plan, is not in line with neighborhood character, disrupts street rhythms, has no articulation or offsetting planes, has poor transition between old and new development, has excessive bulk and scale due to the carport, has excessive lot coverage” and more.
He also affirmed the board’s stance against carports and cited another project in which a carport was converted to a garage and a subsequent complaint was filed.
“The [LJCPA] noticed projects were being bought to us with the FAR maxed out that had a carport,” he said. “After the project left the control of the architects and the contractor, these carports transitioned to garages. We became more vexed and [it] became a bone of contention. We’ve asked architects to stop that process and just design garages.”
Golba told the Planning Commission that “a lot of focus has been placed on the conversion of carports,” which is not “an item before you today, it’s a code enforcement issue. … Let code enforcement do their job. If someone illegally converts something, they can be made aware of it. This project fully complies with all land development code provisions … this project has been appealed for reasons we do not fully understand.”
Commissioner Douglas Austin agreed: “The carport is allowed and we can’t deny a project because someone might do something in the future. That would set a dangerous precedent.”
“The description and the feel of the neighborhood are seen as black and white, and while I love the character of neighborhoods, the neighborhood is in transition … and the proposed homes are consistent with the character of the neighborhood,” Austin said.
LJCPA trustees contend the Community Plan recommends transition between old and new development and that by having a large modern development in an older neighborhood, there is no transition.
Commissioner Matthew Boomhower directed his comments to LJCPA and its handling of the appeal.
“I want to be very, very clear ... I want to call it what it is,” Boomhower said. “When you say pride of ownership, which you repeated over and over and over again in your presentation, what you are saying is you don’t want renters — ‘If you can’t afford to buy in our lovely little neighborhood, we don’t want you here.’ That’s a problem for me.
“Another problem for me is, frankly, the way the LJCPA has approached this appeal illustrates everything that is wrong with community planning groups. … The role of the community planning group is to provide feedback to staff and Planning Commission on development as it occurs in a neighborhood. It’s very hard for me to take you seriously when this is how you approach things.”
Boomhower said that for that reason alone, he could support the project. But he continued:
“I think the community planning group hit on something very useful, which is what the motion [about not approving projects that have carports if they would exceed allowable FAR as a garage] is all about. If you don’t like the way the San Diego municipal code is written … ask that those sections be changed in the next revision. When a project complies with the municipal code and you file an appeal like this, it simply wastes everyone’s time and costs the applicants a ton of money.”
Commission Chairman William Hofman said he agreed that the carport issue is a code enforcement task and said the homeowner would be subject to severe financial costs should the carport be converted to a garage.
Soon after, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the project.
Costello called the Planning Commission’s comments “non-professional.”
During its Aug. 6 meeting, LJCPA gave its blessing for President Diane Kane — with help from Costello and La Jolla architect Phil Merten — to write a letter outlining some of its concerns and have the letter go to the group for approval before sending it downtown.
Once approved, the letter will be sent to the mayor, Planning Commission and City Council.
“The commissioners went way over the top,” Costello said. “We are the city-recognized planning group; we thought we had legitimate issues and we were not treated well. I can understand the vote, I can understand positions, but we were well-prepared and were not treated with consideration. … Their attitude toward us was extremely dismissive.”
Kane said that while she expected the appeal to be denied, “what was surprising was some of the comments we received by some of the commissioners. … I think there is an issue with the process itself in that the tools we have to work with are just not adequate to the questions we wanted addressed. There was a certain formality to the process we couldn’t break out of and neither could they.”
Merten said Boomhower and Austin “completely ignored [their] responsibility to consider the La Jolla Community Plan ... [and] in my opinion, committed a dereliction of duty by not complying with the municipal code.”
Merten added that he sent a letter to Kane calling for those commissioners to resign. “Hopefully that letter will appear on a future [LJCPA] agenda for a signature,” he said. ◆
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